That one year in Europe

DSC_0411And just like that, it was over. Beth asked the kids if they wanted some eggs for breakfast with toast and jam and they did, and we made small talk, and I reminded them of the time, and they were out the door. We changed bus routes with the school since we’re moving back to our house and we’ll be on a different stop next week, and noted today would be the last time we’d get the bus at Beth’s. Charlotte asked twice what time it was and I told her, and we heard the bus brakes squeal around the bend, I kissed them, and waved goodbye.

I loaded the car with some of our things and drove the three miles to our house, across the Sammamish plateau past a horse ranch, a house with some goats out front, a topiary the shape of a T-Rex.

I unpacked a bag from Germany that had my sweaters in it, all the random things I decided to save, a mish-mash of mementos from Amsterdam, Prague, the UK. I put them in a stack and looked at them and thought I’d put them away but let them sit there a day or two longer first.

Our friends who rented the house from us left it better than we did for them, but left things so intact it’s freakish, like a time warp. There’s a plastic lawn sprinkler still sitting on the same rock where I left it by the chicken coop; the American flag is sun bleached and needs to be retired (we left it up because it was almost the Fourth when we moved out) — and while we’re patriotic and proud to be American, it feels like we need a more playful flag now, a flag of the world.

It’s our last time breaking down the tent, moving things piece by piece to another place. And yet there’s another sense of loss leaving Beth’s, my mother-in-law, where we’ve lived three or four times now since her husband died in 2008, when we sold our first house before the market crashed and planned to move in with her just for a month but decided to stay longer and move to Germany for a sabbatical, and decided after we got back that even though I was eligible for another sabbatical seven years later that seven years was too long to wait, so the stars aligned when our friends were willing to rent our house from us, it meant we could afford to move to Europe for several months and come back new people, come back changed.

The first thing I did in the house was wind the clock with a key, a clock John gave us for our first home that hangs in the den and ticks like a heartbeat, and when it tolls it reminds me of the church bells in Germany.

I turned on the CD carousel and let it play whatever I played last (a band called The Sea and Cake).

Dawn and I sat outside on foldout chairs and drank a couple cans of beer while the kids sat in their respective rooms with their things splayed out on the carpet, talking to themselves.

Things have grown up in the yard now, not much died, and all of it looks just like it did, but a bit different. We put so much of ourselves into our homes they become a kind of second skin and it’s strange lending it out, letting someone else wear it. I guess our homes become symbols like everything else, they assume whatever shape we give to them, all our hopes and expectations: like the light-up snowman in our upper loft that seemed to wink when I saw it again, it represents something more than itself, not just Christmas, but every Christmas: mine, my kids’, their youth, a whole lifetime.

At Beth’s, I adjust the shades and open the windows facing west to Lake Sammamish where we can hear the eagles and crows dogfighting: they look like married couples who’ve been together so long, they come to rely on each other’s nitpicking. It feels like adjusting the sails on a boat when I maneuver the shades against the sun and it sets in the corner, and turns the insides of the house pink. Some nights I’ll stay up until dark, when the solar-powered hummingbird mobile lights up on the deck, the one I got for Beth at a hardware store that was going out of business, a kind of memento and thanks for letting us stay.

With my first outreach for a job I heard back right away, but it’s taken some time to meet with the guy. I’m starting to think about what I’ll wear and how I’ll get there, and what I’ll say, and how long I can feel this way, untamed — and what it can do to your senses if you’re not careful about what you choose to do, for work.

I went down the rabbit hole of alternate universe theories on Wikipedia, learned about things like Occam’s razor, Schrödinger’s cat, quantum suicide, and Hangman’s paradox: the fact the mind can reason itself to believe just about anything. It’s like when you know someone’s about to die it still comes as a surprise when they do because you’re protecting yourself, telling yourself it won’t happen even though you know it will. The mind and heart build walls around themselves but walls are made for hiding, they don’t keep things in or out, they just reflect our fears.

It’s good things end, they need to. I try to talk about it with Lily, the fact it will be good when we’re back in the house because it will mean it’s all over, and once we get the animals back, then it really will be. But my voice shakes as I’m saying it and I’m not sure I can believe myself or if I’m just reasoning again, building a wall in the same spot as the last one, that I haven’t changed at all, and I’m not sure I needed to.


Sunset over Lake Sammamish, late July 2015


Categories: musings, travel

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

12 replies

  1. This is good stuff here, Bill. I especially like the bit about the walls, very insightful, and relevant in a bigger way, of course. Hope the girls are doing good, and good luck on the job hunt.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. the feeling that you have not changed can be good or bad, depending on your perspective –


  3. It ends, but it also begins.


  4. You’ve captured that dream-like quality that I felt when we returned from Switzerland. I knew we had been there, but, well, had we really?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a cool quality alright Elyse, I’m glad you can relate and reflect on it, thanks. I hate the hackneyed quality of it but I’ll say it because I mean it, it’s all good. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You opened a gate in the wall for your girls, so there’s always that. Probably some kind of beginning for them, really.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I can’t believe it’s over. Must come as an even bigger shock to you.

    It’s nice to have a mish-mash of mementos. Studies prove that experiences are more rewarding/important than material things.


    • Wish we could be good about that at gift-giving time, on the experiences. Doesn’t often work, sadly. But it’s what you remember, what counts more than objects I think.


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